Go Back Report # 174
02-28-1963

02-28?-1963

RADAR/SONAR CONTACT by WALTER N. WEBB

BACKGROUND

       A longtime friend and coworker of mine at Boston's Museum of Science is Valerie Wilcox of Aubarndale, Massachusetts. During a telephone conversation with me on July 27, 1984, Val commented that an English acquaintance recently mentioned a UFO experience that he had while he was in the Royal Navy. He told her he was present when an unidentified target was picked up on his ship's radar and then tracked by sonar after it entered the water! Part of the log referring to this event was alleged to have been confiscated. Val offered to have us both come to dinner some evening in late August or early September so that I could question the individual about his experience.

       The following report resulted from interviews with the witness at Val's house on September 6, 1984, and at his place of business on September 12 (a follow-up interview). Since he was sworn to secrecy at the time of the incident and still is a British citizen, the observer requested that I not tape our interviews nor use his name or the name of his ship in this report. He also declined to fill out MUFON Form 9 (Radar Cases) due to the classified nature of the instrumentation. However, I was permitted to take notes.

       In the 21˝ years since this amazing episode occurred, I was the first person to hear the complete story. Val and the observer's wife were the only others told anything about the incident. (His wife learned about it only two years ago.) The witness proved to be very cooperative, congenial, and quite credible in my opinion. He is 41 years old, has been married seven years to an American wife, works in Newton. His name, address, and occupation are on file. I have assigned the witness the pseudonym "Tom Preston."      

THE SIGHTING          

       It was late February (possibly the 28th), 1963, and a contingent of the Royal Navy's North Atlantic Fleet had been participating in exercises off Norway for about three days. Part of this contingent of approximately ten ships included Tim Preston's frigate (a destroyer escort).

       Preston, a 20-year-old lieutenant trained in navigation and radar-sonar operations (over 12 months of radar experience), was on the early morning watch (2400 to 0750 hours) in the darkened radar-sonar room. Second in command of this facility, Tom happened to be in charge of the shift at the time of the UFO incident. Besides himself, other personnel in the room comprised three radarscope operators and two sonar operators. The senior officer was not present.

       The witness believes his frigate was cruising approximately northeast between Spitsbergen and Norway, some 30 to 50 miles off the northern Norwegian coast. On a map he placed his position at roughly 71° north latitude and 20° east longitude in the Norwegian Sea. Thinking back to that morning, the observer recalled that the sky was clear except for scattered clouds; the seas were probably running three to five feet; and winds were probably blowing at Beaufort Force 2 (3.5 to 6 knots, or 4 to 7 miles per hour, a slight breeze).

       Each of the three radarscopes in the room displayed a different height level in the atmosphere. At approximately 0315 hours, Preston recalled, a stationary "bleep" appeared abruptly on the highest-level scope. The target's vertical height was approximately 35,000 feet, and it was located somewhat west of the zenith (overhead point) at perhaps 70° elevation. The bleep indicated a seemingly hard, solid object giving off a strong reflection; the size of the target on the screen, according to the witness's best recollection, implied an actual diameter or length for the object of between that of a jet fighter and a 707-- in other words, said Preston, roughly 100 to 120 feet across.          

SUDDEN APPEARANCE

       One of the strange things about this unknown target was the suddenness of its appearance: One moment the screen was empty; the next moment the target was there. If it in fact represented a genuine reflection from a real object at the indicated altitude, the object would have had to have entered the radar field at unbelievable speed, either horizontally or vertically, and then stopped instantly without any deceleration. When I asked about the possibility of anomalous propagation creating a false target, the observer said no unusual atmospheric conditions existed at the time that might have caused A.P. (anomalous propagation –H J-)

       Tom stated that he went out on deck a number of times during the observation and peered upward through binoculars in attempts to spot the UFO against the night sky. He was unsuccessful, however, in spotting the object visually. (A visual confirmation also eluded others in the fleet so far as Preston was able to determine later.)

       After a few minutes, Tom notified his senior officer who came into the radar room, looked at the target on the scope, and then withdrew. The officer proceeded to radio the nearest ship to learn if it also "painted" the same target. It did. Thus, a radar set malfunction was ruled out. (Tom's conversations with radar operators aboard other ships following the episode determined that they had the unknown on their screens as well.)

       When an attempted radio contact with the unexplained source failed to elicit any response, the fleet's flagship was contacted and an order subsequently issued to all ships to execute an evasive maneuver, basically a "Z" pattern. Preston said the UFO appeared to follow the maneuver, remaining overhead at its original altitude and holding the same relative position on the radarscope.          

JET SCRAMBLE

       At this juncture, according to the witness, a call went out for fighter assistance in making an identification intercept. Within minutes, Tom heard the sound of jets through the open door, and he could see the bleeps of two aircraft on the scope racing from the southwest toward the unidentified image. (He believes the aircraft must have been English Electric Lightnings, the RAF's fastest fighters in the early 1960s.)

       The observer recalled that when  the jets came within about 10 to 15 miles of the unknown, the UFO suddenly performed a steep angular descent at  incredible speed, crossing all three radar screens as it descended and passing completely below the radar horizon (750 to 1,000 feet [in] height)--all within about two or three seconds! The object's path crossed the ship's bow from port to starboard.     

SONAR CONTACT

       As the target descended, the two sonar operators aimed their pulses in the general direction of the dropping object. Almost immediately (in a matter of seconds) following loss of radar contact, both sonar operators received audible "pings," indicating a strong echo from a fast-moving submerged target at a range of probably 20,000 yards (roughly 10 miles).

       (Sonar is the underwater counterpart of radar, only the former employs sound waves rather than radio waves. The distance to the submerged object can be found from the time taken for the waves to travel to the object and back to the ship, knowing the velocity of acoustical sound waves through sea water. Tom explained that sonar's usually limited range was extended in this case by means of a classified procedure.)

       The underwater target appeared to be traveling in the same general azimuth and at the same descent angle (at least initially) as the airborne object, implying that the two unknowns were one and the same! The target's speed was considerably reduced, "down to hundreds of miles per hour" but "still moving damn fast," remarked Preston, and it was now moving along a zigzag path away from the ship. Sonar first picked up the target at its upward horizon, perhaps 50 feet below the ocean surface, and continued to register an echo from the object as it dropped rapidly into deep water. (The witness claims that the depth in this area should have been "no more than 2,000 feet.") Sonar contact with the unidentified object suddenly ceased after an indeterminate period of no more than two or three minutes. The abrupt cessation of the echo might have simply indicated that the object dropped behind a rise in the uneven sea bottom.

       Tom's frigate had begun steaming toward the target's entry point at flank speed and probably arrived at the spot in about 20 minutes. A visual and sonar search over the entry point, however, yielded nothing. No further contact of any kind was made with the submerged object.

       When asked to estimate the total duration of the entire radar-sonar observation, the witness said he was uncertain owing to the length of time that had elapsed since the event. But he came up with "five or six minutes although it could have been a lot longer." In fact, if one considers all the elements of time involved throughout the episode -- the initial radar observation prior to notification of the senior officer, the subsequent ship-to-ship communications, the attempted radio contact with the target, the evasive maneuver of the fleet, the arrival of the jets, and the sonar contact -- it would appear that a duration on the order of at least 15 to 20 minutes would have been more reasonable.         

SUBSEQUENT EVENTS

       After Tom witnessed the senior officer enter the UFO observations in the radar log book, their shift ended. Radar room personnel on the early morning watch ate breakfast and then turned in. Probably sometime between 1200 and 1300, Tom said he was awakened and ordered to report to the ward room, along with the five radar and sonar operators on his shift that morning. There was a little grumbling at having their "sack time" interrupted. Awaiting the men in the ward room were their senior officer and the commander of the ship. All sat down around a table over coffee.

      The senior officer proceeded to go over the events of that morning, asking questions about the radar-sonar observations. He told the six men that their conversations were being taped and explained that until more was known about the unknown target, they were to remain silent about what they had seen. "Gentlemen," the officer said, "we will remember that we have all signed the Official Secrets Act (or words to that effect)." Although there were no threats, the implication was clear that to divulge anything to anyone concerning the tracking of the UFO would be considered a breach of security.

       I asked Tom if the meeting might have been part of a general order carried out on other ships in the fleet as well in connection with the UFO incident. He responded that he didn't know if it was or not.

       The witness recollected that he was in the ward room about 10 minutes. He said he never heard anything further about the unknown target.

       When Preston came on duty once again at 2400 hours, he said he was surprised to discover that a "spanking new book" had replaced the radar log used the previous morning.

20 YEAR SECRET

       Tom obeyed his senior officer's instructions to the letter and never revealed to anyone what happened on the British frigate that morning in 1963 until just two years ago. Preston and his wife happened to be watching Nova's infamous "The Case of the UFO" in October 1982. Immediately after the PBS program had ended, Tom turned to his wife and told her he had participated in a UFO sighting while in the Royal Navy. He remembered that he didn't go into much detail and never referred to the experience again until the observation with Val in July 1984.

       What did he think the object was? "I have no idea," Tom replied simply. He added that whatever it was, "it was guided." The witness emphasized that both the radar and sonar targets consisted of crisp, hard reflections, not "ghost" echoes. The radar target, he stressed, was "absolutely not" an aircraft, balloon, bird, or false weather target. Nor could it have been a radar set malfunction since operators on other ships had the same target on their screens.

EVALUATION

       As far as I am personally aware, this case is totally unique in the history of UFO reports. It is the first known combined radar-sonar contact of a UFO. With perhaps a single exception, it is also the first known sonar-tracking of a USO (Unidentified Submarine Object), UFOs reportedly seen entering, passing through, or exiting bodies of water. The most significant UFO accounts involve objects observed entering and/or leaving water. Sightings of many unidentified objects remaining underwater throughout the entire observation may in fact be due to the activity of foreign submarines as well as to bioluminescent phenomena (the mysterious "wheels of light").

       The only other publicized USO sonar contact that this investigator could uncover turns out to be not much more than an unsubstantiated rumor related in the late Ivan T. Sanderson's Invisible Residents (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1970; Avon Books, 1973). Citing Martin Caidin's Hydrospace (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1964) and Ed Hyde's article "U.F.O.'s --At 4500 Fathoms!," Man's Illustrated (Mar. 1966) as two of his sources, Sanderson pooled the various versions of the story and came up with a composite account which can be summarized as follows:

       Sometime in 1963 (the same year as the Preston episode) the U.S. Navy was conducting antisubmarine exercises off Puerto Rico. The craft included five smaller naval vessels, submarines, aircraft (at least one towing a dunking or dipping sonar below the ocean surface), and possibly the carrier Wasp serving as the command ship. 

HIGH-SPEED USO

       A sonar operator aboard a destroyer reported that one of the subs suddenly commenced pursuit of an unknown submerged object that was moving at "over 150 knots" (170-plus miles per hour!). According to most accounts, similar sonar reports of a high-speed object began coming in from all of the other ships and from the sonar-trailing aircraft. One of Sanderson's sources stated that no less than 13 craft recorded in their logs that their sonars had tracked this object. Allegedly, the unknown target continued to be tracked for four days as it maneuvered down to depths of 27,000 feet! (This must have been in the vicinity of the Atlantic's deepest point -- 28,374 feet below sea level -- in the Puerto Rico Trench.)

       If the above story is true, nothing of known earthly origin can travel underwater at such speeds or maneuver at such depths. The fastest nuclear subs can attain 45 knots (52 miles per hour) and dive to around 3,000 feet. The bathyscaphe Trieste, with a specially constructed pressure-resistant hull, descended to a record 35,820 feet in 1960. However, it was incapable of maneuvering about.

       It is unfortunate that more than 21 years elapsed before the Preston case reached the attention of a UFO investigator. We have here yet another example of government UFO secrecy at work--this time a foreign nation, Great Britain. Largely due to his apprehension over potential repercussions if he revealed his experience, Tom felt compelled to keep his knowledge of the event to himself. Since it hadn't occurred to him at the time that the radar log notes would be removed, he had only his memory to rely upon during our interviews. He expressed uncertainty about some of the details and about his exact location off the coast of Norway. Nevertheless, the gist of what took place seems quite clear.

       If we assume that the observer's recollections are approximately correct regarding the UFO's 35,000-foot vertical height, 70° elevation angle, three-second descent, and approximate 10-mile-distant entry point, then we can infer that the object's 30° descent path covered 14 miles at a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour--in the neighborhood of a slow meteor's velocity!          

ANOMALOUS PROPAGATION

       The radar target apparently was not confirmed visually. This situation would ordinarily lead one to believe anomalous propagation might be responsible. AP arises when abnormal atmospheric conditions interfere with the normal propagation of radar waves, causing a display of false targets in places and at altitudes where no physical object should appear. For example, super refractive layers in the atmosphere may bend radar beams at such an angle that they pick up distant surface or airborne targets below the horizon and make them appear at elevated locations on the radarscope. Nothing would be evident to the naked eye in the sky.

       Nevertheless, according to the witness, none of the conditions that might lead to AP were in fact present at the time.

       But there are other arguments against anomalous propagation and natural phenomena in general being the cause of the radar-sonar targets. Was it just a coincidence that the target suddenly darted away at the moment the jets approached after having remained stationary for quite possibly some 10 or 15 minutes? Was it a coincidence that an unidentified, high-speed sonar target appeared in the same direction of the airborne target's point of disappearance below the radar horizon and within seconds of loss of radar contact? What sort of airborne natural phenomenon can suddenly submerge and maneuver almost equally well through a water environment?   

EVASIVE ACTION

       The image on radar gave all the outward appearances of reacting to the jets' approach and then successfully eluding further detection by submerging in the ocean and eventually retreating from view. Another example of apparent intelligent behavior: The target appeared to follow the fleet’s evasive "Z" maneuver.

       Owing to (1) the lengthy passage of more than two decades since the experience occurred and the resultant diminished accuracy of remembered details, (2) the unavailability of written data or records concerning the instrumented readings, (3) the availability of only a single witness, and (4) the lack of visual confirmation, I might ordinarily have listed this reported experience as "simply" an "unknown.”

       But because of the credibility of the witness and the report's unique and potentially important nature as a combined radar-sonar UFO contact, l have elected to upgrade the status of this report to that of "significant unknown."                                                                                   

This reference: The MUFON UFO Journal, #199, November 1984, pp. 7-10     

UFOCAT PRN – NONE

UFOCAT URN – NONE The MUFON UFO Journal, #199, November 1984, pp. 7-10

UFOCAT URN – NONE Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century by Janet and Colin Bord,

                                        p. 164, © 1989       

Europe – Off Norway

Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island formerly known as West Spitsbergen, is the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. I used the town of Longyearbyen to locate the latitude and longitude as the whole group of islands encompasses the area from 74° to 81° North and 10° to 35° East. The name Spitsbergen was also formerly applied to the entire archipelago of Svalbard and occasionally still is. –H J-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spitsbergen and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard 

Spitsbergen     Latitude 78-54-00 N, Longitude 18-01-00 E (D-M-S)

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spitsbergen 

Longyearbyen  Latitude 78-13-00 N, Longitude 15-38-00 E (D-M-S)

Reference: http://gnswww.nga.mil/geonames/GNS/index.jsp


 



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